Germany loosens arms export restrictions to Saudi Arabia — but not on fighter jets

VILNIUS — The German government agreed Wednesday to soften its position on arms exports to Saudi Arabia while continuing to block deliveries of Eurofighter jets — a decision that risks upsetting the U.K. which is involved in producing the fighter plane.

Germany imposed a weapons export embargo against Saudi Arabia in 2018 following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Riyadh’s involvement in the Yemen war. In recent months, there has been growing pressure from some in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government coalition — particularly from the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) to reconsider exporting arms to Saudia Arabia after it reached a ceasefire with Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen last year.

Weapon exports to conflict regions are a particularly sensitive issue for the Greens, one of the coalition partners of Scholz’s Social Democrats, alongside the FDP.

The German government deviated from its longstanding position to not supply arms to war zones when it agreed last year for the first time to send its own weapons to Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion.

Scholz reached an agreement with the Greens and FDP to allow weapon exports to Saudi Arabia “in specific individual cases,” Scholz’s spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said in a statement lauding Saudi Arabia’s ceasefire efforts, without specifying what the criteria for those cases are.

These weapons, he added, must not be utilized in Yemen and must not be used in relation to potential human rights violations.

Scholz told reporters on Wednesday the agreement does not change Berlin’s position on fighter jet deliveries to Riyadh, which Germany has blocked.

“I can tell you: A decision on a Eurofighter delivery toward Saudi Arabia is not on the agenda for the foreseeable future,” the chancellor said at his closing press conference of the NATO summit in Vilnius.

A German government official, who was granted anonymity to speak freely, told POLITICO there will not be authorization to export Eurofighters to Saudi Arabia in the current legislative period, which runs until late 2025.

The decision may upset the United Kingdom, which has been pushing to allow the delivery of Eurofighter jets to Riyadh, according to a report by Welt, a German sister publication of POLITICO.

Saudi Arabia, which already has 72 Eurofighters, agreed five years ago with London on an option to order four dozen more aircraft jointly developed by Franco-German company Airbus (although France later dropped out), Britain’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Leonardo. Those countries are able to veto exports of the planes to other countries, which Germany has utilized in this instance.

However, Germany may allow the delivery of the A400M military cargo plane, developed among several European nations, to the United Arab Emirates. Scholz stressed the importance of cooperation on various armaments projects in Europe in his press conference Wednesday, and named the A400M specifically as a plane that may be authorized for export.

Sara Nanni, the defense policy spokesperson of the German Greens, welcomed the decision to not allow fighter jet deliveries to Saudi Arabia but stressed the Emirates should not get the A400M.

“They will use it to distribute weapons in the region — this will achieve the opposite of prevention and stability,” Nanni told POLITICO.

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